This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Okay, potted Ring Cycle rundown, with apologies to Wagner. Hideo Nakata’s original 1998 Ring, which for clarity’s sake we’ll break with the style guide and call by it’s Japanese name Ringu, was nothing short of a revelation. An atmospheric, creepy horror film that was actually scary. Long time readers of this site or anyone with two brain cells to rub together will know that this is a very rare thing indeed. A year later he directs Ringu 2, a fairly disappointing followup with a strange focus on trying to explain the inherently inexplicable, i.e. how the murderous spirit of Samara wound up inside a video tape. Cue experiments combining electricity and swimming pools full of water, with predictably tragic consequences. Concentrating on other projects, it’s left to Norio Tsuruta to direct a barely necessary prequel, 2000’s originally named Ringu 0. While, if memory serves, this fell more down the traditional / cheap quiet-bit-loud-orchestral-stab route, it’s not too bad an outing although one that doesn’t really feel like a proper Ringu film, for reasons that aren’t vital to the matter at hand to quantify. Meanwhile in Korea, Dong-bin Kim directs The Ring Virus, which is essentially a scene-for-scene remake of Ringu in Korean.
This clearly gives a Hollywood exec an idea. With the mythos about Asian horror movies building (see also Danny and Oxide Pang’s The Eye and Bangkok Haunted following on from the excellent Bangkok Dangerous), as well as Western critical acclaim and commercial success for other examples of Asian cinema such as Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and Infernal Affairs, why not try remaking some of these for Western audiences? Why not indeed, says Gore ‘not Vidal’ Verbinski as he knocks out The Ring, which contains all of the important scenes of Nakata’s work, adds a few new slants and contains as many thrills and intriguing plot strands as the original. I still say the final reveal of Samara’s entrance, stage right is handled better in Nakata’s version, but overall the film is still the dog’s knackers. Which is to say very good, although what dog’s knackers have to do with that is one of the many things I’ll never understand. Anyhoo, The Ring opens to positive reviews and more importantly a huge box office, so a sequel is commissioned along with about a billion remakes of other Asian horrors.
Which, eventually, brings us to Ring Two, the imaginatively named sequel. From the outset it had been made clear that this was not going to bear any relation to Ringu 2, and while that’s a good thing for all concerned still not enough to get us too worked up over a sequel to a remake that’s already got a sequel. How many other avenues could possibly be explored? With Verbinski tied up on Pirates of the Caribbean and its forthcoming dual follow-up duties, who should helm this outing of the well-based horror franchise? The answer was surprising; Hideo Nakata. I can’t off handedly recall any precedent for a director choosing to direct a sequel of a remake without directing the remake itself, which isn’t in itself important but it’s interesting. Tacit admission that Ringu 2 wasn’t up to snuff? Just wanting some familiar territory to ground himself in on his first Western outing? I can only imagine that given his reputation as the Alpha Male horror director he could have knocked on Dreamworks’ door with any project and be granted any budget he demanded (horror movies traditionally being ‘cheap’ anyway, admittedly for given values of cheap), so this choice is kinda intriguing, no?
This intrigualisation lasts for perhaps half an hour after you’ve settled into the cinema with your cola and gelatine treats, as it becomes apparent that The Ring Two is rather dull. Concordantly talking about things surrounding the film is more satisfying than writing about the film itself. Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) having survived the first movie’s events moves from Seattle to the smallish town of Astoria, editing the local daily newspaper for which ‘Man bites Dog’ is an headline only seen in their wildest dreams. ‘Man walks Dog’ would seem more their speed. Anyhoo, she makes a home with photography loving son Aidan (David Dorfman) and things seem to be going swimmingly, then a corpse shows up with the characteristic face-twistin’ that a close encounter with the freaky well-dwelling Samara inevitably results in. While it seems that Rachel finds and destroys this Ring video in short order (surely we’re on the verge of a re-writable DVD being more appropriate?), Samara’s not going to leave Aidan alone. It seems she wants to become him. Thus Rachel must work out why she keeps on coming back from this mysterious video dimension she’s found herself in and how to stop her.
Doesn’t sound like much of a plot to fill up close to two hours, does it? While I’ve missed out such vital plot developments as Rachel and Aidan being attacked by a horde of rampaging, iffy CG stags (no, really), there’s not really enough going on in The Ring Two to justify it’s length. The first half hour drags by, which might not be so bad were it also building up the same densely layered atmosphere that served Ringu so well. For reasons I can only attribute to it not saying anything new about its lead characters, it’s building up nothing apart from a numb sensation in the buttockular area. Business picks up later on, but even then there’s the nagging sensation that this is just The Ring Again. The investigative bit is more abstract and less involving, the jumpy moments fewer and far less well executed (scary horses versus laughable stags, and there’s a comparison I didn’t think I’d ever have to make), nigh on everything is much the same, but not as good.
Which is something of a tragedy, as it means we have to write this off as ‘not particularly entertaining’ and give it the same mark as Boogeyman and White Chicks, which seems unduly harsh. In terms of the work and love that’s gone into the project, even the most cursory glance shows that this is leagues ahead of many of its brethren. Sadly it doesn’t translate itself into the film, and the stretches that were so tense in The Ring become lethargic in The Ring Two. Divested of reasons to be scared, it’s no surprise that the ending does not scare. Concordantly (twice in one review! Crivvens!) divested of reasons to be entertained, it’s no surprise that the movie is somewhat tedious.
But it’s very well crafted tedium, if that counts for anything. The acting’s not far off flawless for this sort of thing, especially from little Simon Baker who carries the bulk of the difficult scenes as Samara exerts her influence over him. Naomi Watts. Mmmm. Sorry, got distracted. Um, yeah, she handles everything as competently as we’ve come to expect from here, but reasons to care about their characters come few and far between. Nakata’s camera work, when not obsessing over ridiculous stag based sequences (sorry to harp on about it, but it’s an awful scene) is on occasion beautiful and rarely less than…nice, but who can get worked up over something that’s just nice?
It doesn’t make a lick of sense of course, but that’s not what you watch horror films for, is it? If we seem to judge The Ring Two harshly, it’s only because it’s failing by Nakata’s own high standard. Perhaps if it had Brian Cox electrocuting himself in a bathtub again it’d be a better film, or at least a more interesting one.